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People v. Cordevant

June 19, 1998


Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 93-CF-1262

Justices: Honorable Terrence J. Hopkins, J. Honorable Thomas M. Welch, P.j. Honorable Charles W. Chapman, J. Concur

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hopkins delivered the opinion of the court:

Honorable Lloyd A. Cueto, Judge, presiding.

Defendant, Ronald Cordevant, appeals from his conviction, following a jury trial, of first-degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1992)). Defendant was sentenced to 53 years' imprisonment. On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court erred in failing to appoint other counsel to represent defendant with respect to his posttrial allegation that his attorney suborned perjury and in failing to sufficiently examine the factual basis for defendant's other pro se posttrial claims. We affirm.


Defendant was charged by indictment with the murder of his wife, Mary Dawn Cordevant. Prior to trial, a jury found defendant fit to stand trial. During the fitness hearing, Dr. John Rabun, the State's physician expert, testified that even though defendant was not taking Thorazine at the time of the hearing, defendant would remain fit to stand trial even if defendant began taking Thorazine. Dr. Rabun explained that people are often placed on medication that is not needed and that he had restored people to stand trial using such medication.

After defendant was found fit to stand trial, he filed a pro se motion for appointment of counsel other than the public defender who had been representing him. The court appointed special counsel to represent defendant with respect to his pro se motion. Following a hearing, defendant's motion was denied. The public defender continued to represent defendant.

At trial, eight eyewitnesses to the shooting testified on behalf of the State, in addition to two police officers, a crime-scene technician, a firearms examiner, a forensic pathologist, and the victim's mother. The testimony revealed that on December 20, 1993, at Rally's restaurant in Cahokia, defendant and Mary Cordevant were arguing in defendant's truck, and this argument was overheard on Rally's drive-through intercom. Gary Francis, Gary Donnelley, and Shanda Robertson, employees of Rally's restaurant, testified that they heard Mary yell: "Don't. You don't have to do it. Don't do it. Don't, don't." They heard defendant say, "Shut up." Mary jumped out of the truck and began running. Defendant, with a gun in his hand, chased Mary and shot at her. Mary staggered but kept running. Defendant caught her, picked her up by the collar, and shot her again. Mary attempted to brush the gun away. Defendant then aimed the gun at Mary's head and fired.

Thereafter, defendant fled the scene in his truck. Charles Aligholi, an employee of Rally's, testified that he wrote down the perpetrator's license plate, which was later identified as being registered to defendant.

Against the advice of his counsel, defendant testified that he did not shoot his wife and that, instead, her death was an accident. Defendant stated that he and his wife were having a Discussion outside Rally's, concerning whether Mary should go to her mother's or not, when Mary left defendant's truck. Defendant said that he followed Mary and caught her. Defendant stated that when Mary turned to him, she had a gun in her hand, and the gun discharged as he pushed it back to her. Defendant asserted that the gun discharged again as Mary fell and as defendant attempted to seize the gun away from her. Defendant stated he fled the scene in his truck and disposed of the gun on a back road. The gun was never recovered.

Dr. Raj Nanduri, a forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Mary's body, found six gunshot wounds, two of which were exit wounds. The cause of Mary Dawn Cordevant's death was a gunshot wound that penetrated her skull.

The jury found defendant guilty of first-degree murder. Defendant's attorney filed a posttrial motion, and defendant filed his pro se posttrial motion. Among other contentions, defendant alleged that his trial attorney had been ineffective at trial because (1) counsel suborned perjury from defendant and (2) counsel failed to seek a mistrial when a young girl, within view of the jury, requested that the prosecutor point out the "bad man" and the prosecutor pointed at defendant.

Prior to sentencing, the trial court noted that it had reviewed counsel's and defendant's posttrial motions. Defense counsel indicated that arguing defendant's pro se motion could create a conflict of interest for him. In addition, counsel declined the court's offer to present oral argument with respect to his own motion. Similarly, defendant declined the court's request to supplement his written motion with any oral statement. No evidence in mitigation was presented by defense counsel. The court denied all posttrial motions, and defendant was thereafter sentenced to imprisonment for 53 years.

Trial counsel filed a motion to reduce sentence, and defendant filed a pro se motion to reduce sentence. In his pro se post-sentencing motion, defendant alleged that his attorney failed to present mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing. Specifically, defendant alleged that defendant's family and friends were not called to testify on defendant's behalf. Defendant also alleged that he was unfit to stand trial because the county jail was giving him Thorazine, a psychotropic drug, during trial and sentencing. Defendant alleged that his trial attorney had been ineffective for failing to inform the court and the psychologist who testified for defendant at his fitness hearing that defendant was taking Thorazine.

At the post-sentencing motion hearing, defense counsel noted that since the sentencing hearing, defendant had attempted suicide and that counsel had learned that defendant was taking psychotropic medication. No explanation appears in the record for the source of counsel's knowledge that defendant was taking psychotropic medication. Counsel indicated, however, that he never had a bona fide doubt concerning defendant's fitness. Although the trial court requested that defendant make an oral statement ...

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